“There is … a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build …”
So begins the well-known poem of ‘The Teacher’ in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes. His words echo our experience of life – it’s certainly not all good but it’s not all bad either and if there were good times in the past then maybe there will be good times again in the future. It’s all part of the rhythm of life and that’s OK.
But when you read the rest of his book you realise that that cannot be what 'The Teacher' meant. He was deeply puzzled by the apparent pointlessness of life – it’s all a vapour, a fleeting mist, an enigma. The ‘rhythm of life’ is not a comfort but something disturbing. For each good thing that is done there is also an undoing, peace is replaced by war, beautiful buildings are torn down, strong relationships fall apart and life is overtaken by death. ‘The Teacher’ longed for a better world where good things don’t come to an end.
And so he taught his hearers to hope for a day when the world would be different. He prepared them to hear about a man whose life was not a fleeting mist because death would be unable to crush him; a man whose words would never be forgotten, whose accomplishments would never dim, whose just and righteous government cannot fail.
Ecclesiastes is a book for our day. We hope that all our busyness and fretting is accomplishing something important and yet we are troubled by reality. What is the point of spending your life working hard if everything you achieve is temporary? Exactly, says Jesus, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25)